Yeshiva Academy basketball team ends unforgettable era

The Yeshiva University men’s basketball game team has concluded an unforgettable era

It was the first of what’s known as the happiest month in the Jewish agenda, when the joyful holiday of Purim takes identify. It was also the outset of March Madness. As the sun set, it was hard to tell that just a few hours earlier, there had been tears in the locker room — the Macs had lost the starting time game of the NCAA’s Sectionalisation 3 tournament and a gamble to realize their dream of a national championship.

It was the finish of an unforgettable three-year, four-season era, in which the squad representing an Orthodox Jewish institution grabbed national and international headlines and inspired the Jewish people at a fourth dimension of growing antisemitism and a relentless pandemic.

The NBA congratulated them on Twitter in December when they built a 50-game winning streak. Yeshiva too was ranked No. 1 in Division III for the first time. The team won three Skyline Conference championships in four years and went on to the Division Three tournament, where last Fri they lost 63-59 to Johns Hopkins University.

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“That’s historical stuff,” coach Elliot Steinmetz told them. The one-time Yeshiva player, who works total time equally a lawyer, took the coaching chore in 2014 with 1 goal: recruiting the all-time Jewish players nationwide. “That’s bigger than wins and losses,” he said.

The players came from beyond the United states of america and vary in observance of their faith — from Max Leibowitz, who leads them in prayer and gives them lessons inspired past the Torah before they continue the court, to Ofek Reef, a 6-foot inferior from Texas who goes on the court without the skullcap, wearing tattoos and a Star of David-shaped earring, and captivates the crowds when he dunks over taller rivals.

The roster also includes Jordan Armstrong, a half dozen-human foot-8 forwards who wears a beard and a homo bun and describes himself as a hippie from northern California, and Gabriel Leifer, who returned to play as a graduate pupil while he juggled a full-time job at an bookkeeping firm and became the team’s all-time leader in assists and rebounds.

All of them, though, are united by their Jewish identity and their love of basketball.

The Macs were led by senior Ryan Turell, a 6-foot-seven bespeak guard, who turned down Sectionalization I offers to play for the Orthodox school in New York City’south Washington Heights neighborhood considering he wanted to exist a “Jewish hero.”

Professional scouts took notice of his talent and followed him closely. ESPN and The New York Times profiled him when the Macs had the longest active winning streak in men’s basketball and he became the school’s — and for a while, the country’s — top scorer. His goal? To go the first Jewish Orthodox player in the NBA, then he tin continue to inspire Jewish people “to stay proud.”

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“It’s a dream come up truthful,” Turell said. “The fact that people have pride to article of clothing a kippah or be Jewish is what nosotros set out to do, and we accomplished it.”

The game against Johns Hopkins came down to the final seconds. The Macs were losing lx-52 with less than a minute and a one-half left to play. Turell then led a comeback, scoring three direct gratis throws followed past a three-pointer. Trailing but by two with less than a minute on the clock, Turell had the tying shot but missed it and Johns Hopkins won, scoring on complimentary throws. After the buzzer, Turell embraced every teammate on the court and congratulated them on an astonishing season.

“Information technology’s nearly Jewish pride. It’southward really meaningful for myself and for the kids. They look at them like heroes,” said Daniel Hermann, who attended the game at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, with three of his children.

Ii years agone, the Macs advanced to the Sweetness 16 of the Division III tournament for the showtime time.

The team fabricated history in their own fashion playing the first U.S. sports event held without fans because of COVID fears.

Afterwards a iv-hour bus ride for their next game in Virginia, they got the news that COVID-19 had forced the NCAA to abolish the tournament; the pandemic put a sudden, shocking finish to their season and their dream of winning a national championship.

In the adjacent twelvemonth and a half, some teammates and their families across the U.Southward. contracted COVID-19. Players quarantined, practiced isolated in small groups, and saw game after game canceled. Two seasons afterward they had their comeback to attain the top of the national rankings, and a shot at the Division 3 title.

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“Our team does not just play for a school, they play for a people,” said Rabbi Ari Berman, Yeshiva’s president.

“Countless stories of how our basketball squad has inspired people from effectually the world take poured into our offices,” he said. “Children gained new heroes, Jews who were distant from their identity re-connected, some started attending services and lighting Shabbat candles again.”

“But most of all, through their excellence, humility and graphic symbol, our team emanated Jewish pride to the world,” Berman added. “In a time of global darkness and too frequent antisemitism, these astonishing students were a beacon of lite.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Chat US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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